(Photograph by Lord Snowden for Vanity Fair)
On Sunday I had the pleasure of attending an intimate lunch at Helen Mirren's estate in the hills of Old Hollywood. She wasn't there. Two good friends of ours have been leasing her house for the last year and, on the cusp of their departure to the East Coast for an end-of-summer idyll, had a few friends over to enjoy the afternoon.
I can offer no photos of the house or of my hosts as they treasure their privacy, but I'm sure they wouldn't mind if I try to paint in words some of the images emblazoned in my head.
The house sits in the midst of what must be acres of land. You pass through a series of impressive security gates into an endlessly long and curving drive and become momentarily disoriented: the city falls away and you could swear you've suddenly been transported to Antibes or Juans-les-Pins. Luca, of course, was agog at the lushness of the landscape. He asked if it was the LA Zoo.
After a winding climb, we passed a 19th century hunting lodge on the grounds and parked in front of the main house, which is large and honey-colored with wooden shutters painted dark teal. Built in the early 1900's, it has the Jazz Age elegance of the grand villas in the south of France. The front door was open and we walked into a cool dark entry hall with ebony stained floors and white walls. A wrought-iron balustrade gracefully wrapped its way up to the second floor. As my friends are in the process of moving to another permanent home, most of the furniture had already been removed and the rooms were bare except for a few pieces of Helen's carefully tucked into corners. In the grand salon-cum-living room, a framed portrait of her hung on the wall, her eyes imperturbably fixed on the jetliner views of Hollywood.
A simple, delicious buffet was laid out for us by the house staff on a long center table in the living room. We loaded up our plates and ate alfresco in the shade of the stone terrace under a small grove of trees. Far below us, the vague lilac mass of the city vibrated and rumbled. Dogs and children roamed freely about, babies napped and occasionally, a nanny's voice could be heard corralling her charges. After lunch, platters of fresh berries, butterscotch brownies and homemade tarte tatins were offered round. Luca was in absolute heaven.
We spent the afternoon there in total contentment, as you can imagine. I tried to imprint the loveliness of the house on my brain as it was the last time I'll probably ever go there (my friends are moving out imminently). If you don't know Los Angeles, it may sound surprising that houses like this still exist here...but they do. There are hundreds and hundreds of them, architectural grande dames that bore witness to the Golden Age of Hollywood and now have become historical landmarks in their own right. It's part of why I fell in love with this town; the glamour of years gone by is still such an indelible part of daily life here.
My Top Five Old Hollywood Haunts...
1 . Chateau Marmont Hotel and Restaurant, opened in 1927
2. Musso and Frank Grill, opened in 1919
3. Beverly Hills Hotel, opened in 1912
4. Tower Bar, opened in 1931
5. Pacific Dining Car, opened in 1921